By Jeff Huebner

Inside a small tent in Grant Park, the Gallery 37 Latin Big Band is doing yet another run-through of “Descarga de hoy.” But conductor Mike McLaughlin still isn’t satisfied. Halfway through the mambo, he quits, slicing the muggy July air with his hands. The band clatters to a stop.

“Come on!” barks McLaughlin. “This is our big opening number! Percussion, let me hear you, as loud as you can be!” He pauses. “I can’t believe I’m telling drummers to be loud.”

The drummers chuckle.

“Wake up,” McLaughlin says. “We’re paying you!”

The 26-piece band kicks into a more spirited rendition. Congas, timbales, and claves keep the beat, good and loud, as other youngsters take turns soloing on saxophone, trombone, organ, and guitar. They sound fairly tight, yet McLaughlin thinks they have a long way to go before playing their first concert in ten days.

“Not all these kids are going to be professional musicians, but all of them are having the opportunity of having a musical experience,” says McLaughlin, a trumpet player and a teacher at Sherwood Conservatory of Music. “They get to see how much work is involved, and they see that if they do a lot of work they’ll get results. No professional organizations rehearse this much.”

The Latin Big Band was formed in 1992 as a partnership involving Sherwood, the Chicago Public Schools, and Gallery 37, the city’s job-training-in-the-arts program. The band performs around the city and puts out a record every year. It’s mostly made up of Latino and African-American teens; there are a few white kids. “We run the gamut,” says McLaughlin, “from the richest to the poorest. Some live in the projects, some live in nice places.”

Still, not just anyone can join: aspiring players must pass an audition. This isn’t high school band. “The goal is to train them for professional performances,” says Dan Skoog, a percussionist who also teaches at Sherwood. The group has a revolving membership, though many students return year after year. Some eventually serve as teaching assistants.

Paula Green, 21, is a six-year member. A graduate of Morgan Park High School, she’s now majoring in music at Chicago State University. Green wants to make her living as a musician and has already played percussion in a few local bands at such nightclubs as Park West and House of Blues. Through Gallery 37, she says, “I’ve learned how to be a professional musician. It’s like a regular corporate job–you have to be here on time. You learn professional skills, but not like typing.”

Established in 1991, Gallery 37 provides young people–ages 14 to 21–with summer jobs training in areas as diverse as architecture, playwriting, textile design, wood carving, African dance, ceramics, and circus arts. The program gets its name from its site–the infamous Block 37, directly across State Street from Marshall Field’s–which was razed by developers but never built upon. “Apprentice artists,” as Gallery 37 calls its students, earn $5.15 an hour, minimum wage, working 20 hours a week under the supervision of professional artists. Teaching artists–who make up to $28 an hour–are recruited from dozens of arts and community organizations, as well as schools. Students are expected to develop skills that could lead to careers. Their products are sold at the Gallery 37 Store at State and Lake, or installed in public spaces; Gallery 37 murals adorn el stations, community and social service centers, and O’Hare and Midway airports.

The program launched Jonathan Brooks’s career. Growing up in Cabrini-Green, Brooks says, he was “always fascinated with movies and pictures and videos–anything that had to do with images.” From 1992 to ’96, while a student at Near North Career Magnet High School and then Columbia College, Brooks learned about video production through Gallery 37.

“It totally changed my life,” says Brooks, 23. “I met a lot of people, got out of the house, and went to work for money. It was fun. There’s nothing positive about the projects. There’s nothing to do at all, except gangbanging.” Last year Brooks became a photographer for the Chicago Housing Authority, and his photos appeared in the book Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago, by LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman with David Isay. “I try to hook people on to [Gallery 37] as much as I can,” he says, “because it’s better than working at a fast-food restaurant.”

The 37-year-old Urban Gateways, one of the city’s pioneering arts education organizations, has worked with Gallery 37 since the program’s inception. “Gallery 37 has involved the arts in the schools’ career movement,” says executive director Libby Chiu. “It’s proving to kids that the arts are a viable profession and an option for professional growth. For [those] who say you can’t make a living in the arts, Gallery 37 is proving them wrong. It’s bucking the trend, and it’s brilliant.”

Nadine Saitland, director of the Illinois Alliance for Arts Education, believes there’s value in acknowledging that art can be a business. Gallery 37 “is a life lesson, and that’s the beauty of the program,” she says. “You begin to understand that [art] requires other skills–it requires a huge commitment, it requires discipline, it requires all of the dimensions of problem solving, things that we as educators and employers value. In this environment, kids get exposure to that kind of thinking. It’s also dealing with how your effort is valued in the marketplace.”

Saitland calls Gallery 37 a “very credible” program for other reasons as well. “The people who manage it have brought major players to the table, and they keep bringing them back,” she says. “It’s building a cadre of expertise that it’s able to share with the youngsters. The people who have nurtured it and who are managing it really understand the dynamics of how to make something work.”

Those nurturers include some heavy hitters, such as Maggie Daley, the wife of Mayor Richard Daley, and Lois Weisberg, commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs. Indeed, Gallery 37 is often plugged as Mrs. Daley’s “pet project,” and her devotion has enabled the program to grow and prosper. She’s chair of the Gallery 37 Committee as well as the Arts Matter Foundation, which funds Gallery 37.

Helped by both private and public money, Gallery 37’s annual budget has swelled to $4 million. As visible as its tents may be, it’s no longer restricted to eight weeks on Block 37. Since its modest beginnings employing 260 youths for a summer, Gallery 37 has expanded with year-round offerings in various city neighborhoods, parks, and schools; this year 3,000 youths are expected to participate in classes at 65 sites outside of downtown. All told, Gallery 37 has created nearly 8,000 jobs over eight years–about 1,500 this summer. Nearly 350 artists are employed annually as teachers. The program has ties to 29 city agencies.

Gallery 37 has been replicated in 16 cities across the U.S.–from Los Angeles to Atlanta. Overseas projects have also been inspired by Gallery 37–in London and Birmingham, England, and in Adelaide, Australia. Hillary Clinton has cited the program as a model for arts education. Last fall Gallery 37 was one of ten programs to receive a $100,000 award from the Innovations in American Government project, which is administered by the Ford Foundation, Harvard University, and the Council for Excellence in Government; part of that grant funded a seminar last month, when representatives from other cities came to Chicago to learn how to design their own arts-based youth employment programs.

Despite its success, Gallery 37 is rapidly approaching a crossroads. Its downtown program will soon be booted from its high-profile site, perhaps as early as next summer, to make way for the long-delayed development of Block 37. Weisberg says she always knew the lot was a temporary spot; moving is more of an annoyance than a setback, since the program expects to remain in the downtown area, perhaps in Grant Park. More troubling are the complaints coming from local arts organizations that derive their income from working in schools, mostly, though not exclusively, in poor neighborhoods. Gallery 37’s access to power, money, and resources is starting to make them nervous. As the director of one arts organization told me, Gallery 37 “is becoming a juggernaut that could suck the lifeblood out of us.”

With the budget cuts of the 1980s, the arts were often the first subjects to be eliminated by the Chicago Public Schools. Nonprofit groups rushed in to fill the gap, training artists to teach visual and performing arts. These organizations–many now working with Gallery 37–continued to bring art into classrooms, either through artists’ residencies and extracurricular programs or by working with teachers to integrate the arts into the broader academic curriculum.

Gallery 37 doesn’t work directly in classrooms–at least not yet. And while some have criticized the program for its product-oriented approach, no one in the city’s richly varied arts education community faults its mission: to make the arts a viable career option. Gallery 37 director Cheryl Hughes insists the program isn’t competing with arts education groups; in fact, she says, it has helped to enrich them by actively enlisting their help, and by underscoring the importance of the arts in education. “Gallery 37 is not a pure arts education program,” she explains. “We’re a jobs training program, a preemployment program, which makes us a little bit different.”

“What they’re doing is really valuable, but it’s not art education,” agrees Deborah Smith-Shank, associate professor of art education at Northeastern Illinois University. “It’s an enhancement program, it’s an enrichment program, but not a general program.” There is, however, a danger: Gallery 37 “is getting so much visibility that people almost maybe think this is what’s going on in art education,” Smith-Shank says. “They’ll think it’s not necessary [to have classes] in schools being taught by bona fide arts teachers.”

Hughes says, “I know that a lot of arts education purists wouldn’t want us lumped with them,” and she’s right. In fact, when more than a dozen arts education groups that produce school programs began meeting last fall on a monthly basis, Gallery 37 wasn’t invited–so far its school efforts have been limited to after-class and summer programs. The new consortium, the Chicago Arts Education Organization Association, includes such groups as Art Resources in Teaching, Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education, Chicago Moving Company, Chicago Public Art Group, Child’s Play Touring Theatre, Creating Pride, Merit Music Program, Sherwood Conservatory of Music, Urban Gateways, Whirlwind, and the Illinois Arts Council’s Arts in Education Program. Members have many issues on their agenda. They often feel underappreciated for the work they’ve been doing in schools, in some cases for decades. (Art Resources in Training, for example, is 104 years old; the group, which focuses solely on teaching visual arts in public elementary schools, was founded at Hull-House in 1894.) Their main goals are to increase their presence in the Chicago Public Schools by serving more students and to have an active role in curriculum planning.

But they face several challenges. As schools continue to lose Chapter One funds–which the state determines based on the number of students living at or below the poverty line–there is less discretionary money to pay for arts programs. Most principals, the group has found, don’t value arts education because they’re under the gun to raise test scores in order to avoid remediation or probation. At the same time, arts funding has become increasingly centralized–with money now going to Gallery 37’s after-class programs, which some education groups feel are profiting at their expense.

Even so, it looks as though Gallery 37 will play a greater role in public schools. At last summer’s opening ceremony, Chicago Board of Education chief Paul Vallas said he hopes there will be Gallery 37-type programs in every school within the next three years (30 schools already have them). During this year’s June 30 kickoff, Vallas called Gallery 37 the “sentinel for the restoration and protection of the arts…not only in Chicago Public Schools but in the city of Chicago.” Maggie Daley and Lois Weisberg are cochairs of a task force advising the board’s recently created Bureau of Cultural Arts on developing new arts curricula; the effort was a response to Goals 2000, the state-mandated initiative for improving public schools. Members of the Chicago Arts Education Organization Association want to be at the table when decisions that affect them–and arts curricula–are being made.

“I don’t want a recentralized, politicized job training program deciding what arts Chicago Public Schools should get,” says Karl Androes, the executive director of Whirlwind, a group that uses drama and dance to teach language arts. “I don’t think it’s their role. It’s not appropriate for students.

“It could put us all out of business, and then you lose a resource that’s valuable to the city of Chicago.”

Gallery 37 might never have happened if Irving Zucker hadn’t flown to New York one weekend in 1987. He was helping a friend hang an exhibit of paintings by William S. Burroughs at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery. The show also included work by Keith Haring, who’d gained fame in the early 80s for his graffitilike chalk drawings in New York subways. Zucker, a sometime English teacher who runs the in-school-suspension center at Wells High School, struck up a conversation with Haring at the opening and discovered they had a common interest: working with young people on art projects.

“Keith said, ‘Why don’t you come by my studio and we’ll talk about doing something in Chicago,'” Zucker recalls. “We sat and brainstormed about ideas. One of the ideas we had was possibly to do a mural with lots of schoolkids–he’d never done anything in Chicago before. He’d do the outline of his own artwork, and the kids could come and paint inside the lines.”

At the time Zucker was staging concerts in high schools through the Jazz Institute of Chicago. When he returned home, he wrote letters to Manford Byrd, then superintendent of schools, and to Robert Johnson, the now-retired director of the schools’ art bureau. After receiving an enthusiastic go-ahead, Zucker won the support of Helen Goldenberg, a trustee at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which helped to develop instructional materials and to recruit corporate sponsors. “Everybody loved the idea of doing a hands-on, teaching-by-doing mural project,” he says. “It was the perfect vehicle to impact on a lot of kids–it would be inspiring and motivational.”

Nearly two years later–from May 17 to 19, 1989–Haring and a squad of art teachers led more than 450 students from dozens of high schools in the painting of a 432-foot-long mural in Grant Park; kids got paid through the Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training. The teens, dressed in Haring-designed T-shirts and caps, filled the artist’s cartoony designs with colors, patterns, faces, and slogans (“England Out of Ireland,” “Stop Gangs,” and “Help Homeless”).

The project was a success. “A lot of people came down to Michigan Avenue, watching, taking photographs,” Zucker says. “No one ever dreamed it would be a big PR thing. We were just doing a good thing for kids–nobody was getting any money for it. Keith could’ve stayed in New York and knocked out eight or nine paintings that week. It really was an inspiration for all of us working on it. None of us ever thought about money.” Zucker got to know Haring well. “He told me, ‘I envy you. You get to work with kids every day.’ He was always trying to help and teach kids. He said, ‘I want to do these things now because I won’t have a lot of time.'” Haring, diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, died in 1990.

The student mural was supposed to be used as a construction barrier for a proposed 72-story hotel and apartment complex in River North; its developer, says Zucker, had contributed “maybe $15,000” toward the artwork. But financing for the building soon collapsed, and the completed mural was eventually put into storage in a Chicago Public Schools warehouse.

The economic recession also killed another building project, this one in the heart of the Loop. In 1983 newly elected mayor Harold Washington had selected FJV Ventures–a partnership between JMB Realty Corporation, Metropolitan Structures, and the Levy Organization–to redevelop the three-acre site known as Block 37. The block was then occupied by offices, shops, and theaters; one structure, the McCarthy Building, was a designated landmark the city had vowed to save. Instead, in 1989, taxpayers paid $41 million to buy all the buildings and level the land; FJV ended up buying the block for $12.5 million. FJV’s plans evolved into a $500 million office tower complex, with retail outlets on State. But just as ground breaking was set to begin, in early 1990, the commercial real estate market collapsed.

Mayor Daley sought to put the empty lot to positive use and solicited ideas from city officials. Zucker recalls Robert Johnson first talking about “paying kids to do art downtown under a big tent,” an idea he says was seconded by Joan Harris, then commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs. But Lois Weisberg, who succeeded Harris in 1990, developed the plan to use Block 37 for an arts-based youth employment program.

“Originally I thought we could have a big exhibition of art,” says Weisberg. “Then someone told me the Keith Haring murals were available. And then we realized, instead of using the mural as a display, that we should put in a training program. That was the inspiration. And there was federal jobs money available to pay young people. What we tried to do was combine arts learning with job training.”

The idea wasn’t all that new; since the mid-70s many arts and social service organizations had received federal funds to hire high-schoolers to create murals and other artwork under the guidance of artists. One of the aims of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act was to engage kids in productive activities for which they would receive a paycheck. But what made Gallery 37 unique was that its stated metier was developing arts-related career skills–and that it was a project of city government.

By early July 1991, it looked as if a traveling fair had set up camp on the lot. Beneath yellow, white, and silver tents, artists instructed kids, most from low-income families, in card design, painting, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, mask making, metal tooling, and video. Students also silk-screened original designs onto T-shirts that, along with other pieces, were sold in an on-site gift shop. City agencies commissioned some works for public places: the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, for example, hired Gallery 37 artists to create a mural depicting the history of Navy Pier.

“The arts provide youngsters with a form of expression that can motivate the entire learning process,” Maggie Daley said in the summer 1991 issue of Public Art Update, the now-defunct publication of the city’s public art program, which administered the project during its first year. “The enthusiastic support for Gallery 37 by both the private and public sectors demonstrates the value we place on arts education in our city.”

More than 40 businesses and nonprofit organizations kicked in over $300,000 to pay for the inaugural Gallery 37. Art classes were provided by the Chicago Public Schools, Urban Gateways, the School of the Art Institute, the Marwen Foundation, the Chicago Children’s Museum, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago, and the Center for New Television. About two-thirds of the students’ salaries were covered by federal funding the first year. Other salaries were funded through the private sector; teachers, for example, worked under a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

An orientation tent featured video screenings, including a documentary by Elaine Goldstein about the making of the Haring mural, which had been reinstalled for the occasion along the north side of the block. Artist Karl Wirsum led youths in the painting of Plug Bug on the back wall of Commonwealth Edison’s Dearborn Street substation (the only remaining building on the block, it was deemed too costly to relocate). The lightning-bug mural still stands as an unlikely Loop landmark.

Gallery 37 had four coordinators that first year–one was Irving Zucker. In recognition of his past contributions, he was named the site’s principal. “I was in charge of coordinating the educators and student artists, payroll, PR,” he says proudly. He often thinks about that first year. “I’ll be in Walgreens or something, and somebody will say, ‘You were the principal of Gallery 37! I was in Gallery 37 that year!’ I’ll look at this person, and they look 27–they are 27. I run into kids from the Keith Haring project–there were like 500 of them. The kids say to me, ‘That art project changed my life!’ Anytime you have that hands-on learning-by-doing experience, it’s life changing and motivational, especially when you have these maestros coming in and working intensively with kids. But we were too busy to consider we were going to make a little bit of history.”

Days after the inaugural Gallery 37 ended, the Haring mural was packed up and put back into storage. It’s been exhibited several times since, though it hasn’t been brought out the last two years; Weisberg says the artwork needs to be restored.

“You know,” muses Zucker, “next year will be the tenth anniversary of the mural. It’d be nice if they could put it out there so people could see it again.”

Problem is, there might not be any place to put it. Last fall, with the comeback of downtown development, FJV principal JMB Realty announced plans for a “$200 million plus” multiuse project for Block 37; soon afterward, the owners began meeting with city officials to hammer out the details for a complex that would include stores and a hotel. Becky Carroll, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Planning and Development, says that Macy’s has “expressed interest” and the city expects to receive a proposal “shortly.”

“We want this site to complement a 24-hour downtown district, to complement the theater district and the State Street retail area, and we envision hotel use, retail use, also office space, and possibly residential,” says Carroll. “But we’re taking a wait-and-see attitude. I’m sure [the developers] want to make sure that every t is crossed and every i is dotted before they give us the proposal.” Carroll says she “wouldn’t even want to guesstimate” when construction might begin. “These massive redevelopment deals take time–patience is definitely a virtue.”

The block’s development won’t mean the demise of Gallery 37’s downtown program. The city is shelling out $9.5 million to rehabilitate two buildings at 62-70 E. Randolph. The planned Cultural Affairs Arts Resource Center will include administrative offices for Gallery 37–its staff of 25 currently works out of a warren of cubicles on the fifth floor of the Cultural Center. But only a few programs will be held in the art center, which will also house a 150-seat theater, a culinary-arts kitchen and cafe, and work space. The Gallery 37 Store will also be relocated there. The building should be ready by September 1999.

But where will the tents be pitched? “It’s up in the air,” according to Weisberg. “We were told last year we’d have to look for another downtown site within the next two years,” she says. “The visibility has helped us a lot, and we want to have it where there’s traffic. But keeping a downtown presence is a problem we haven’t solved yet. We’re still looking.” She adds that FJV “really cares” about Gallery 37–after all, the owners have donated the land–“and they’re probably as sorry as we are.”

Gallery 37 director Cheryl Hughes says the downtown site allows students to interact with the public. “People are afraid of teenagers,” she says. “When you come into Gallery 37, it’s part of those apprentice artists’ responsibility to interact with you. It’s part of their job description to be able to tell you what they’re doing. I think it’s changed people’s perception of what a Chicago teenager is, and that’s really really important to us.”

There’s also a more practical reason why Gallery 37 would like to stay downtown: property taxes captured from the North Loop tax-increment financing district–the city’s first TIF, established in 1984–have pumped $1.2 million into the program since 1994. TIF money, for example, has paid for the wrought-iron fence around the downtown site and for the off-duty cops who work there as security guards.

Practically speaking, Gallery 37 outgrew its downtown quarters long ago. Its neighborhood program, started in 1992, now offers activities at 34 locations–community centers, Park District facilities, and CHA projects. “Each of those have the agenda, which they should, of serving their communities,” says Hughes. Though funding and technical assistance come directly from Gallery 37, community organizations or “neighborhood satellites,” such as the Boulevard Arts Center (Gallery 60) and the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum (Gallery 18), are semiautonomous and create programs tailor-made for youths hired from the surrounding area. Local artists, for example, will encourage their charges to make art about their communities. In recent years, Gallery 37 has also instituted a year-round “connections program” for disabled students; though not a jobs program, art classes are held at various public middle schools as well as the Cultural Center.

Nothing succeeds like success, and over the years, Hughes says, “a lot of people have come to us” to form partnerships. Two years ago Gallery 37 entered the Chicago Public Schools with a pilot program employing 320 students in 16 high schools; it now provides after-school and summer programs to more than 1,000 youths at 30 schools. Some of this summer’s programs include garden design at Fenger High, papermaking at Mather High, stone carving at Curie High, and tap dance at Englewood Technical Preparatory Academy. In addition, volunteer art programs have been organized at several elementary schools.

Hughes says Gallery 37 entered the schools because it was invited. “The schools would shut down every night after school, and the kids had no safe place to go,” she says. “In the fall of 1995 Paul Vallas came to us and said, ‘We want to keep the schools open and we want to have quality programs after school.’ So Gallery 37–we consider it to be a quality program–designed a program to go into the public schools after school.”

With other arts education groups already serving public schools, did Hughes ever think that Gallery 37 was taking pieces of the pie away from everyone else?

“We are an umbrella organization for local arts agencies, local artists, and in certain instances social service agencies that do arts,” she says. “We partner with all of those agencies by programming under the name of Gallery 37. We’re saying the future workforce is going to learn great employment skills because of their experience in the arts. That’s what we do. Are we competitive with the other organizations in their pure arts-in-education programs that happen during the day or in other after-school situations? No. I think that what we do in Gallery 37 is we go out and raise nontraditional money for a job training program in the arts, and then we give that money to local artists and local arts organizations to provide the programs.

“So I think that we make the pie larger. We raise all of the money. We don’t necessarily ask [partner] organizations to raise money for their programs. We raise the money, we find the kids, we operate the administrative body that does the payroll and all of that, and we give grants to the artists and to that organization.”

But some arts education groups are worried about the increasingly close relations between Gallery 37 and the Chicago Public Schools. Members of the Chicago Arts Education Organization Association are also alarmed by the shift in funding from individual schools to the public system as a whole. Teaching organizations have seen their income from schools diminish as discretionary funds–which might have been spent on arts-in-education programs–are redirected into Gallery 37’s schools program. And this, these groups maintain, is no substitute for arts education, or for qualified, full-time art teachers.

In 1996 and ’97, schools subscribing to Gallery 37 paid $2,000 each out of their Chapter One funds to purchase a ten-week after-school program; most arts education groups offer programs starting at about twice that amount. Beginning this year, however, schools don’t have to pay for Gallery 37 classes, according to Adrian Beverly, deputy chief of schools and regions for the Chicago Public Schools. “This year the programs are basically financed out of the central office.” He adds that Gallery 37 teachers are paid $2,000 a semester out of a budget of $120,000. This seems like a boon for the schools: they can now use their discretionary funds to buy a computer, for example.

But arts education groups, including many that have worked with the same schools for decades, don’t get funding out of Pershing Road–so how can they compete against Gallery 37, a city agency that does? They’re saying, “What about us?”

Karl Androes has been on the front lines of arts education for more than a decade. In 1983 he was one of three artists who founded the Whirlwind Performance Company, a theater group combining music, dance, and drama. Two years later, Whirlwind began crafting programs for elementary schools; the aim was for children to develop self-discipline, teamwork, and various creative skills. In 1991, the group expanded its programming to help teachers incorporate arts–and arts-based learning–into other classroom activities.

In fall 1996, Whirlwind shifted its focus once again. Acting on its own survey of school principals, the group began to integrate the arts into academic curricula by linking performance to the development of language and learning skills–“so that we could be about the business that schools are about,” Androes says. Now Whirlwind’s six full-time trained artists work with teachers and students to instill basic literacy skills through two programs: basic reading through dance, and reading comprehension through drama. In reading comprehension through drama, for instance, children learn how to form pictures in their heads as they read; they practice “imaging” skills through theater–reading stories and acting them out, and later discussing them. Whirlwind will have programs in 20 schools during the 1998-’99 school year. “Before, when we went into schools, everybody had a good time and we all went home,” Androes said in the December 1997 edition of Illinois Issues. “Now we’re helping kids improve their basic skills.”

In the spring of ’97, Whirlwind commissioned a study at four randomly selected elementary schools to find out whether its reading comprehension program could improve fourth-graders’ test scores. After a ten-week class–provided free of charge–Whirlwind students scored 33 percent higher in the reading portion of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills than schoolmates who had no arts instruction. Only one of the schools, Pulaski, bought the program the following year (though it has since been dropped); the other three didn’t purchase the class because of either Chapter One cuts or decisions to use arts programs provided by other groups. (Whirlwind’s programs run between $8,000 and $20,000 a school year.)

The study, the first of its kind conducted locally, confirmed what others had shown before: arts education can help students learn academic skills. After the results were reported in several newspapers and magazines, Androes received phone calls from other arts groups wanting to conduct their own research. At the time, Cozette Buckney, chief education officer for the Chicago Public Schools, applauded Whirlwind for demonstrating the “very strong relationship between the arts and basic skills learning.”

Recently, more attention has been paid to the idea of integrating the arts into general school curricula. Rather than delivering the arts through short-term enrichment or “drop-in” programs, arts integration seeks to improve schools by making quality arts education a central and permanent part of the daily learning experience. “There’s been a recognition that there’s so much more arts can do for students and schools–they have a lot of untapped potential,” says Charles Twichell, associate director of Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education. “The arts fit very nicely into the idea of integration, and lend themselves to many different subject areas.”

Arts integration has been championed as part of long-term school reform initiatives. In the early 90s a Marshall Field’s-funded study noted that Chicago, a city unusually rich in arts education resources, had few links between its schools and professional arts groups. Initiated in 1993, Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education, or CAPE, now has nine neighborhood-based partnerships involving 23 public schools, 33 arts organizations, and 11 community groups. In the 1997-’98 school year, the program served 22,200 students. The arts are not delivered, but rather their use in classes is planned with the input of artists, teachers, and parents.

Last year at Pulaski School, for instance, second-grade students studying ecology photographed nearby homes and then created scale models of their school and its surrounding area out of milk cartons. The neighborhood is being gentrified, so the homes changed during the course of the project. This led to discussions about community planning, and the students eventually used computer software to redesign the neighborhood; they also designed alternative playgrounds for the school. Residents came into the classroom to talk about the ways the area was changing. The students documented the whole process with drawings and journals, which were displayed in the hallway.

The shift toward arts integration has left some arts education groups in the dust, and they’ve been scrambling to catch up. Urban Gateways, among the largest and most comprehensive arts-in-education organizations in the country, was founded in 1961 by a group of African-American women committed to exposing disadvantaged kids to Chicago’s cultural resources. While Urban Gateways remains the school system’s primary vendor of in-school arts programming, the organization has been hard hit by Chapter One cuts and increased competition. It’s had to rethink its approach to arts education, which has focused on one-to-three-day workshops, in-school performances, and field trips. “The trend in schools now is in-depth programs rather than hit-and-run,” says Tim Sauers, director of programs for Urban Gateways.

At its peak in 1994, Urban Gateways had an annual budget of $3.8 million, with programs in 941 Chicago-area schools; the group employed 320 artists. But in 1998, according to Sauers, the budget stands at $3 million, with programs in “about 800 schools”; the group now employs 180 artists. In January its board appointed Libby Chiu as executive director and cut its full-time staff from 41 to 22. The organization has stepped up its artist-in-residence program–last year it placed artists in nine-week residencies at 41 public and 46 parochial schools in the Chicago area. In 1995, a $750,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts enabled Urban Gateways to develop workshops to help teachers integrate the arts with academic subjects. One recent project at Disney Magnet School, for instance, combined social studies, language arts, and visual art.

A onetime CAPE partner, Urban Gateways is now doing more arts integration programing on its own. “With 600 [Chicago public] schools, there’s no way any one organization can serve all kids anyway–we all do different kinds of art,” says Chiu. “There may be more of us, but now each of us does fewer schools, so each of us can spend more time in each school. I don’t see us in competition in business. We try to see it as serving an ever-growing number of needs. We are in competition for dollars, but serving more kids.”

As the arts were axed from schools in the 1980s, private foundations helped pick up the slack. “The arts are an important part of young people’s development, and access to these skills were disappearing,” says Sara Solataroff, senior staff associate at the Chicago Community Trust, which funds many arts education efforts. “The prospect of having a whole generation of kids with no experience in [the arts] was pretty frightening.” She adds that the trust has “given a lot more attention to arts in schools” and that there are now 12 to 15 groups in the city “doing the kind of work we felt to be credible arts education.”

Foundations are also giving more money to organizations doing arts integration. According to the February issue of Catalyst, a monthly journal that monitors Chicago school reform, the MacArthur Foundation gave about $50,000 to arts-integration projects ten years ago; this year it gave $500,000. Last year, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge gave Whirlwind and three partner schools $796,000 to create after-school labs to train teachers in arts integration.

Despite these signs of support, Whirlwind’s Androes says that selling arts education to the current public schools administration continues to be an uphill battle. He cites an unscientific survey he took of a half dozen arts-in-education groups that showed their income from schools had dropped 40 percent over the last four years (though it’s expected to jog up again in 1998-’99). There are many reasons for the decline, says Androes. “Local schools can spend money any way they want, but [the school board] is saying if you don’t raise test scores we’ll take jobs away,” he says. “So the folks making purchasing decisions [at local schools] with money they control have decided to say no to arts education. It’s influenced by mandates and job threats from the Pershing Road folks.”

But Pershing Road is now showing some commitment to the arts. Two years ago, the school reform board passed a resolution supporting “systemwide integration of arts education in the curriculum and in the school improvement plans of each school.” The board also created the position of cultural arts director to oversee the effort; then it convened the task force cochaired by Maggie Daley and Lois Weisberg to advise the Bureau of Cultural Arts. According to cultural arts director Diane Chandler, the task force is composed of “22 arts educators, educators, principals, and representatives from cultural institutions.” But the task force didn’t include any representatives from independent arts education vendors. This slight prompted Androes to get on the phone to other arts education groups. “We decided we had enough interests in common for us to start talking to each other–we haven’t had a formal or informal way to do it,” he says. “I realized that if I didn’t call up everybody, we were just not going to do it.”

The groups that formed the Chicago Arts Education Organization Association saw themselves being left out of the curriculum-planning process just as Gallery 37 appeared to be inching closer to doing in-school programs. “As long as [Gallery 37] stays in after-school programs and doing what they’re best at doing, which is job training, then every school should take them up on it,” Androes says. “But when they start going into schools and saying they’re in the direct-service business during school days, and they’re going to take money out of the school system to do it, is that good for schools? Is that good for kids? If they can do it better than us, then that’s great for kids–more power to them. But I don’t think they can.”

Gallery 37’s Cheryl Hughes says she’s aware of the concerns of the Chicago Arts Education Organization Association, but maintains Gallery 37 “will not replace arts-in-education in schools. We can’t do our program well unless arts stay in schools. We can’t do Gallery 37 without Marwen, ART, Urban Gateways.” Yet she concedes that Gallery 37 is developing a teacher training program for arts integration in school curricula. The program is a partnership with the Illinois Arts Education Alliance and “a core of professional artists.” She says, “We use Gallery 37’s site and facilities to do the program, but it’s very much a partnership. Will we get into the business of doing a lot of arts integration? I don’t know. I would say that our primary mission is job training, youth employment, employment of artists. If we do any more teacher training, it would be in partnership with someone else.”

Because Gallery 37 draws government money, some arts educators insist it ought to be held more accountable. When an arts group receives public money, its programs are judged by a panel of peers–people chosen from the field who evaluate the quality of proposals. This is the established procedure for government agencies that disperse cultural funding. But some charge that Gallery 37 doesn’t invite outside peer review–almost everything is accepted or rejected by staff. “They have all the benefits of being a quasi-government agency and none of the accountability,” complains one arts educator. “It functions like a government agency when it wants to, and when it doesn’t want to be publicly accountable it functions like a private foundation.”

Hughes says that decisions work their way up from Gallery 37’s staff through the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, its advisory board, and the Arts Matter Foundation, as well as through its various partners. “The independent artists and the teaching organizations that we give money to submit proposals to us that we review as a team–the programming staff, the operational staff–and we usually have an outside artist or outside arts administrator work with us on making the decisions about what programs get funded. The Arts Matter board approves or disapproves–[it] makes all the final decisions and signs the contracts, but the [Gallery 37] staff determines the programming with our partners, with the Park District, with the public schools, and certainly we’re in discussion with the teaching organizations and the artists about programs. It wouldn’t work if we weren’t.”

Little if any of this concerns Gallery 37’s instructors, many of whom are working artists without stable incomes. For them, it’s a good deal; the program provides a paycheck that can go a long way between gigs or sales of their artwork. Some also teach art in schools; others are quite capable of teaching but either don’t want to or lack the necessary certification. Still, like most arts education groups, Gallery 37 doesn’t give benefits to its teaching artists.

Gallery 37’s lead artists make $22 to $28 an hour, a wage roughly comparable to what most arts education groups pay. Teaching assistants, who are recent graduates or working artists, make $10 to $16 an hour. Lead artists must have at least five years’ teaching experience in schools or in arts groups, but a master’s degree can stand in for several years of teaching.

Hughes says that in all cases Gallery 37 gives young people the opportunity to learn skills from real-life artists. “They’re all professionals because they’re being paid to work in the arts,” she says. “We want them to also have a studio, to work on whatever their art form is. We want to employ working artists. That’s very important to us.”

Beneath Urban Gateways’ tent on Block 37, lead artists Miriam Socoloff and Mirtes Zwierzynski instruct teens in the painting of benches, chairs, and other furniture. About a dozen youths paint benches with designs based on the work of such artists as Jacob Lawrence, Caravaggio, Tiepolo, and Matisse; these benches will be installed in public places or offered for sale in the Gallery 37 Store for $400 or more. Rahmaan Barnes, a student at the South Side College Preparatory Academy, is painting portraits of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters on a bench that has been commissioned by the House of Blues.

Socoloff and Zwierzynski are veteran arts educators, but each has taken a different path. Socoloff has taught art at Lake View High School for 28 years and in Gallery 37’s Urban Gateways tent since 1992. For the past 12 years, Zwierzynski has worked full-time as a teaching artist with several arts education organizations. Both artists have led students on mosaic mural projects for the Chicago Public Art Group. They say mentoring Gallery 37 students is different from working with other schoolkids because these students have artistic leanings–it doesn’t involve as much basic teaching. Socoloff says there’s also a more “interesting racial mix” here than at most schools.

“I think it’s very important for there to be fine arts education as a discipline in and of itself,” says Socoloff, “and not just as an integrated activity as part of a social studies class, for example–though that’s not to take away from the value of arts integration; that should be happening, too. It’s important to have arts specialists in schools; otherwise you don’t have more advanced students feeding into Gallery 37.”

In the Lill Street Learning Center tent, lead artist Marjorie Woodruff shows students how to make boats out of slabs of clay. This is the youth-education arm of the Lill Street Gallery, a ceramic arts center. Working from drawings, students shape the clay, which will then be fired in on-site kilns, painted with an underglaze, overglazed, then fired again. Woodruff–who also teaches ceramics to adults at Harold Washington College and Lill Street Studios, as well as to children through the School of the Art Institute’s community-based programs–says that being a lead artist at Gallery 37 is “different than teaching regular art classes. For arts educators, it’s a unique situation. We have to encourage [students] to develop artistic and technical skills. But at the same time we consider the limitations that we’re making work to sell. We come here prepared to understand that, and that’s an adjustment that we’ve gotten used to, students and teaching artists. It’s not necessarily negative–every artist has to learn how to work within different parameters. As an artist selling functional ceramics, you have to be conscious of an audience.”

“When most people think of art, they think of music and painting,” says apprentice Stephanie Moy, who just graduated from Whitney Young High School. “They don’t focus on 3-D art that much in school, and coming here gives me the opportunity to learn about different art forms.” Deon Jackson, a Sullivan High School student, also likes ceramics. “You get to work around different types of materials,” he says. “You have to be precise when working with clay. It takes time, but after a while you get used to it. If you fail, you have to do it again.” Jackson adds, “If they don’t get around to selling it in the gift shop, at least your making it isn’t a total waste because you’re making some money off it.”

“Not just for art’s sake” proclaim the price tags attached to every item in the Gallery 37 Store. The tags also list the apprentice artist’s name, school, art program, and year. Set in the mall of the Stouffer Renaissance Hotel at State and Lake, the store looks like a cross between a crafts shop and an outsider-art gallery (some items are even marked “artist unknown”). All proceeds go back into funding the program that makes the store–and everything in it–possible.

Everything is for sale: paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, mosaics, watercolor postcards, handmade books and paper, jewelry, ceramic bowls and cookie jars, sculptures, carved wooden canes, puppets and masks, scarves, painted antique washboards, fanciful hats, feathered mirrors, literary collections, music cassettes. Anything that doesn’t sell here is stockpiled in a city warehouse or offered for sale beneath a tent on Block 37. Though big oil paintings go for $450, most work is in the $20 to $50 range. It’s perfect for gift buying or souvenirs.

But some arts educators disparage Gallery 37’s cultural-bazaar approach to making art objects. “What it doesn’t take the place of is critically examining art in culture,” says Northeastern’s Deborah Smith-Shank. “It doesn’t give kids a real foundation for looking at their own work, and the work of others, in a critical context–things kids really need to know. What they’re doing is producing for a market–they’re being taught production skills. [Kids] are on display as exhibits, making tourist art.”

Hughes has heard this criticism before. Gallery 37 is not trying “to put together a survey class in painting,” she says. “We want to keep very focused on the job element.” She also has a handy analogy. “If you work for Donna Karan as a designer, she will provide for you all the tools to do your job. She will give you your desk or your design studio, the fabric–everything you need. She’s also paying you for your education and your knowledge and your skills. At the end of the week, you don’t leave with a sequined gown. You leave with a paycheck. At Gallery 37 you have a similar situation. We don’t ask you to pay for this, so it’s not a class. We give you your work space, all the supplies that you need. And we give you quality supplies, what I would consider professional-level equipment. You’re an apprentice artist, you show up to work at Gallery 37, and provided for you is–you’re in printmaking–a printing press, all the inks you need, professional instruction to give you that education to develop your skills, because that’s what a responsible employer does….And you produce a product. At the end of the week you receive a paycheck. A product can also be a Latin jazz band performing all over the city, dancers that perform all over the city.”

Apprentice artists don’t get a cut of the sales. “The reason is very much the same–that we provide everything,” says Hughes. “When a professional artist sells their art and 50 percent goes to the gallery and 50 percent goes to them, when someone’s purchasing their art they’re paying for their studio space, their supplies, their equipment and everything. Since we’re providing all of that, we’re giving a wage rather than a commission.

“But the other very important element of that is we do performance art programs, so we wouldn’t be able to give a kid a commission on that. Or a kid that paints a bench. The bench sells for $400 or $500. And then we sell a $10 piece of ceramics. I mean, there’s just some real injustice if you were to try to carve up the pie that way. That’s why we stick with the minimum wage.”

Besides, Hughes adds, the youths wanted it that way. During Gallery 37’s first year, staffers surveyed the apprentice artists, asking them where they wanted the money to go. “And they said, ‘We want it to go so other kids could do what we do.’

“And the kids take real pride when people buy their work. They come into the store, they bring their families to the store, and they go, hey, did such-and-such piece sell? I’ve had patrons of the retail store send me photos of the artwork in their house that I then forward on to the apprentice artist. So there’s a connection that goes back to that connection between these urban youths and these adults, and how unique that is.”

“Everybody ready?” Mike McLaughlin asks as he faces the Latin Big Band. It’s Friday, just after noon. The young musicians occupy center stage in the Chicago Music Mart’s outdoor courtyard at State and Jackson. About 100 people have shown up for the band’s first public performance of the summer; some carry lunches. There’s a note of anticipation in the air.

McLaughlin raises his hands, and the ensemble leaps into “Descarga de hoy.” It doesn’t take long before the crowd starts shaking to rhythms that feel as tropical as the mid-July weather. The band is cooking–the tune is played with soul and brio. The Latin Big Band–as well as this mambo, with its many solos–seems perfectly suited to the Gallery 37 concept: individuality amid teamwork, cultural diversity among equals. Like the workplace, like real life.

Seven more tunes follow. Nythia Rivera sings “Tula” in Spanish, the sad tale of a woman who goes to bed one night forgetting to blow out a candle and is consumed by fire; its suggestive subtext is not lost on the bilingual. McLaughlin, who conducts most of the numbers, claps his hands, measures out beats with his fingers, points to soloists, and sometimes plays along on trumpet.

Don Skoog, the other lead artist, directs the percussion interludes. He travels to Cuba every year to learn new percussion techniques, and he explains the origins and meaning of Afro-Cuban drumming to the crowd. In one fierce display of musicianship, Paula Green battles with Jerome Croswell on congas, drawing claps and whoops from the crowd.

When the concert’s over about an hour later, the audience erupts into rousing cheers. The Latin Big Band has clearly won them over. Talking to the kids is useless–they’re too excited to form sentences. “It’s definitely a different feeling performing live,” says Green, who can’t stop smiling.

“They played well for the most part, with a lot of energy and fire, though there were a couple brain cramps here and there,” observes McLaughlin. “But it was excellent for a first performance. We’ll get even tighter as time goes on.” And then, he says, the Latin Big Band will be ready to record.

“The goal,” Skoog chimes in, “is to get it as authentic as possible.” o

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photographs by Nathan Mandell.